Stephen King has always struck me as being a humane and generous writer. In today’s New York Times he has a piece entitled “Can a Novelist Be Too Productive?” He points out:
No one in his or her right mind would argue that quantity guarantees quality, but to suggest that quantity never produces quality strikes me as snobbish, inane and demonstrably untrue.
And he points out that some writers (himself included) are just meant to be prolific–they can’t help themselves:
As a young man, my head was like a crowded movie theater where someone has just yelled “Fire!” and everyone scrambles for the exits at once. I had a thousand ideas but only 10 fingers and one typewriter. There were days — I’m not kidding about this, or exaggerating — when I thought all the clamoring voices in my mind would drive me insane. Back then, in my 20s and early 30s, I thought often of the John Keats poem that begins, “When I have fears that I may cease to be / Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain …”
But he never quite answers the question in his title (the title, of course, may not be his). This comes to mind as I read Elin Hilderbrand’s novel The Rumor. She is no dummy: She went to Johns Hopkins and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She has created her own wildly popular genre–the Nantucket beach novel. But clearly her publisher wants her to write a book, maybe two books, a year. Could her novels be better if she took more time writing them, if she aimed higher? Is she being too productive? Beats me, but I think maybe so. The Rumor seems OK, but it is very slight.
On a related topic, I have so little time to read that I tend to avoid prolific novelists, because I fear that they are sacrificing quality for quantity. But, of course, I could be wrong. Here is Shakespeare’s output for 1599, as chronicled in the wonderful book A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599:: Henry V, Julius Caesar, As You Like It, and Hamlet. I don’t think any of us would have wanted Shakespeare to slow down in 1599.
Henry V, Julius Caesar, As You Like It, and Hamlet … in the same year …
I am going someplace quiet to just, oh, gnaw my wrists to the bone ….